Prudentius' Psychomachia
'Conflict Of The Soul'

British Library, MS Cotton Cleopatra C VIII, c.1000
Good-Works fights Avarice
folio 24r

The Saxon ceorl with short-hafted axe and shield, and possibly a simple helmet, tackles a member of the warrior class armed with spear, sword, shield and what is probably a mail shirt. From a contemporary manuscript.
Source: Saxon, Viking and Norman by Terence Wise and G. A. Embleton



Prudentius (born in 348 in northern Spain, died after 405) spent most of his life following worldly pursuits, but later turned to writing, in which he aimed to glorify God and atone for his earlier sins. One of his most popular works is a poem called Psychomachia (Conflict of the Soul), which describes the battles between female personifications of human virtues and vices. Instead of being a dry theological treatise, the poem has the qualities of an exciting narrative filled with high drama, with lots of bloodshed and violence. The descriptions of the women, including their clothes, armour, and details of their conflicts, lend themselves to illustration. This copy was apparently written by a scribe of Christ Church, Canterbury.


Referenced on p55, Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era, 1050-1350, Western Europe and the Crusader States by David Nicolle
99A-B Psychomachia, England, early 11th century
(British Library, Ms. Cotton Cleo. C.VIII, f.24, London, England)

This late Anglo-Saxon manuscript has often been used in attempted reconstructions of pre-Conquest English warriors. One figure (A) simply has an axe and a large round shield. His foeman (B) may ultimately be based upon a Byzantine original. His hat or helmet may be fanciful, or indicate an 'alien' helmet based upon Mediterranean iconography, or simply be a loose woollen hat. Even his presumed mail shirt with its zigzagged edge could derive from such a distant source. It is also worth noting that his much obscured scabbard hangs from a belt or baldric underneath this mail shirt.

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Back to Prudentius' Psychomachia, British Library, MS Cotton Cleopatra C VIII, c.1000